Alexandre Mars has a special radiance around him. When you see him, you are uncertain about the sport he trains, yet he certainly leads a balanced life with his pleasant and genuine approach to everyone in the room. He is an entrepreneur who made it big in the tech/mobile/social media space, as his company ScrOOn was later acquired by Blackberry Limited, while his Phonevalley became part of Publicis Groupe. Still, as it is the case with all truly successful people, what you very quickly realize about Alexandre is that he cares about impacting the world instead of showing off with his previous results.
Through an entrepreneurial approach, Alexandre with his team harnesses the power of new technologies and philanthropy to help those in need. His team connects experts in the technology, social and business sectors to support children and youth around the world. Epic Foundation's portfolio consists of 20 high impact organizations from 11 countries across 5 continents. When I started an interview with him, many intriguing questions appeared about the wisdom of crowds, new philanthropy models and Millennials in the workforce.
Alexandre, what were the most challenging lessons you had to learn in your entrepreneurship path and later as the leader of the international foundation?
It's interesting to realize that the lessons I learned in my entrepreneurship path were the same lessons I learned in my philanthropic path: finding the right team (the human resources aspect), building the right product and hitting the right timing.
As an entrepreneur, in the first couple of weeks of running my second startup, A2X - which was one of the first web agencies in Europe - no one was calling me. I had to be assertive and really push harder. Being reactive was not enough. I had to learn to be proactive. If you truly want to be successful, you need to be a doer. I love this quote by a famous football coach because it perfectly encapsulates my philosophy about success, "There's only one way to succeed in anything, and that is to give it everything." The challenges I faced the most with my businesses were centered on three key themes: HR, timing, product (finding the right people, being there at the right time, producing and building the right product)
I didn't face many challenges as CEO and Founder of Epic Foundation to be honest! But if I had to name a few, it would be the same three key themes I mentioned previously. Luckily, everything worked out when it came to timing. Philanthropy is a hot topic and we launched Epic at a perfect time.
How did you set out to form Epic Foundation? What was the mission behind it and the triggering moment?
As a child, I was greatly influenced by my mother. She enriched my life with her devotion to humanity. Growing up with such a strong role model, I developed many of her passions and interests in helping others. I always knew I wanted to find a way to give back. My wife's work with the Missionaries of Charity, Mother Theresa's organization, in Delhi in her early 20s played a very important role in our lives. When I visited her in Delhi, I saw firsthand what effect poverty and inequality can have on children. This experience was profound and this is also why I chose to focus on children and youth when I founded Epic. To build an organization that would help children grow up healthy, protected from harm and can reach their full potential.
In 2010, when we moved back to NYC, I already knew my 6th startup would be a nonprofit. While running two startups, I did an extensive market research to better understand the issues in the philanthropic space and the solutions we could bring. I needed to think about how I could leverage my own abilities for social good. Then in 2013, we pulled our children out of school for six months and traveled to over 13 countries meeting with non-profits and philanthropists around the world. The goal was to deepen our understanding of the philanthropic ecosystem. We were aware the system was broken, and after 4 years of market research, we had concrete ideas on how to fix them.
Tell us how you decide into which areas to focus your actions. How do Millennials respond to activism of corporations?
Our needs are everywhere. We focus on developing countries and the first world countries. We provide solutions for donors; for example, if a donor wants to support a cause but s/he doesn't know where to start or which organizations to support, we will connect him/her with carefully vetted organizations. We can connect you with amazing social entrepreneurs. Culturally speaking, we found that in the United States, the culture is geared towards giving.
In terms of the Millennial generation, we believe Millennials want to feel more connected to the causes they support, through tools and technology. And we're here to offer that.
When Millennials apply for jobs, they want to know if the company is involved in social good. Apart from compensation, they'll ask how much the company invests in CSR.
Which city do you think is most important for your organization? We can define those cities as especially vibrant and with ecosystems when it comes to social innovation and entrepreneurship.
Our portfolio organizations are located in six regions around the world: the US, Brazil, East Africa, Western Europe, India and Southeast Asia. We launched Epic Foundation in key global cities around the world, including NY, London, Mumbai, San Francisco, Geneva, Brussels, Paris, Hong Kong, LA and Singapore. All of these cities are vibrant and have ecosystems that promote social innovation and entrepreneurship.
For the past 4 months, we introduced our global portfolio of NGOs to a community of entrepreneurs, private banks, family offices, startups and corporate donors, in order to attract large donations. We're covering all the operational costs so 100% of the funds we receive from donors go directly to the portfolio organizations.
Thank you for the inspiration and good luck in your further initiatives.
Photo credits: private archive,